Digger Phelps

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This article is about the basketball coach. For the baseball player also nicknamed "Digger", see Ken Phelps.
Digger Phelps
Digger Phelps cropped.jpg
Phelps on ESPN's College Gameday broadcast.
Sport(s) Basketball
Current position
Title Head coach (retired)
Biographical details
Born (1941-07-04) July 4, 1941 (age 75)
Beacon, New York
Playing career
1960–1963 Rider
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1966–1969 Penn (asst.)
1970–1971 Fordham
1971–1991 Notre Dame
Head coaching record
Overall 419–200 (.677)

Richard F. "Digger" Phelps (born July 4, 1941) is an American former college basketball coach, most notably of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men's basketball team from 1971 to 1991. For 20 years, from 1993 to 2014, he served as an analyst on ESPN. He got the nickname "Digger" from his father, who was a mortician in Beacon, New York.

Coaching career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Phelps began his coaching career in 1963 as a graduate assistant at Rider College (now Rider University), where he had played basketball. After a move to St. Gabriel's High School in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, he obtained his first full assistant job in 1966 at the University of Pennsylvania.

His first head coaching job came in the 1970–1971 season at Fordham University, where he coached Charlie Yelverton and P.J. Carlisimo. After leading the Rams to a 26-3 record, a Number 9 national ranking and an at large bid to the NCAA tournament, he was named head coach at the University of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame[edit]

During his 20 seasons at Notre Dame (1971–91), his teams went 393–197, with 14 seasons of 20 wins or more. In 1978, Notre Dame made its only Final Four to date. His most-remembered game was on January 19, 1974, when the Fighting Irish scored the last 12 points of the game to defeat top-ranked UCLA, 71–70, ending the Bruins' record 88-game winning streak. He shares the NCAA record for most upsets over a #1 team at seven (Gary Williams also has 7).

Date Opponent Score
January 19, 1974 UCLA 71–70
March 5, 1977 San Francisco 93–82
February 26, 1978 Marquette 65–59
February 27, 1980 DePaul 76–74 (2ot)
December 27, 1980 Kentucky 67–61
February 22, 1981 Virginia (UVA) 57–56
February 1, 1987 North Carolina (UNC) 60–58

Broadcasting career[edit]

Phelps got his first broadcasting experience when he served as commentator for ABC Sports' basketball coverage at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

In 1992, he began his broadcasting career as he announced color commentary for that year's NCAA tournament for CBS. He joined ESPN the next season and worked for them until 2014 as a college basketball studio and game analyst.[1]

Phelps announced during the 4/7/14 broadcast of "College GameDay" that he is leaving ESPN.

"I spent 20 years at Notre Dame as a coach and now 20 years here at ESPN doing a great job with all you people. And now it's time for me to move forward, and this will be my last time on TV," Phelps said.

Phelps added: "It's been a great run. Twenty years is always my target for everything, and it's time to move forward."

Off the court[edit]

After retiring from Notre Dame, he briefly worked for the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the administration of George H.W. Bush and also served as an observer in the 1993 elections in Cambodia.

Phelps is a great fan of opera. The well-rounded former coach made a cameo appearance in the Notre Dame student opera performance of Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld". Phelps played the part of Bacchus, the God of Wine, in two performances in April 2006.

Phelps released his memoirs in 2007, titled "Undertaker's Son: Life Lessons from a Coach." Phelps co-wrote the book with Jack Colwell, and the book details Phelps' upbringing, professional success, life principles and even lists his "Top 20" songs of all-time.

Personal life[edit]

Phelps resides in South Bend and has three adult children. His eldest, Karen, is married to baseball pitcher Jamie Moyer.[2] He is a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Rider College.[3]

Phelps was instrumental in the restoration of various programs at John McDonogh High School in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. His gifts helped to restore the sports program and helped to launch a four-year Culinary Academy in partnership with the Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation and the Recovery School District on December 15, 2010.[4]

Cancer battle[edit]

In April 2013, Phelps was diagnosed with bladder cancer.[5][6] On July 1, 2013, his doctor declared him in remission.[7]

Head coaching record[edit]

Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Fordham Rams (Independent) (1970–1971)
1970–71 Fordham 26–3 NCAA Sweet 16/NCAA East 3rd Place
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Independent) (1971–1991)
1971–72 Notre Dame 6–20
1972–73 Notre Dame 18–12 NIT Runner Up
1973–74 Notre Dame 26–3 NCAA Sweet 16/NCAA Midwest 3rd Place
1974–75 Notre Dame 19–10 NCAA Sweet 16
1975–76 Notre Dame 23–6 NCAA Sweet 16
1976–77 Notre Dame 22–7 NCAA 1st Round
1977–78 Notre Dame 23–8 NCAA Final Four
1978–79 Notre Dame 24–6 NCAA Elite 8
1979–80 Notre Dame 22–6 NCAA 2nd Round
1980–81 Notre Dame 23–6 NCAA Sweet 16
1981–82 Notre Dame 10–17
1982–83 Notre Dame 19–10 NIT 1st Round
1983–84 Notre Dame 21–12 NIT Runner Up
1984–85 Notre Dame 21–9 NCAA 2nd Round
1985–86 Notre Dame 23–6 NCAA 1st Round
1986–87 Notre Dame 24–8 NCAA Sweet 16
1987–88 Notre Dame 20–9 NCAA 1st Round
1988–89 Notre Dame 21–7 NCAA 2nd Round
1989–90 Notre Dame 16–13 NCAA 1st Round
1990–91 Notre Dame 12–20
Notre Dame: 393–195
Total: 419–198

      National champion         Postseason invitational champion  
      Conference regular season champion         Conference regular season and conference tournament champion
      Division regular season champion       Division regular season and conference tournament champion
      Conference tournament champion


  1. ^ "Digger Phelps". ESPN MediaZone. Archived from the original on 2014-04-03. 
  2. ^ Bingham, Jacqueline W. "Alumni Association to honor Karen and Jamie Moyer". Notre Dame. Retrieved July 19, 2013. 
  3. ^ Frater Appointed to President's Council on Physical Fitness, tke.org; accessed January 1, 2015.
  4. ^ Profile, nola.com; accessed January 1, 2015.
  5. ^ "ESPN". ESPN.com. 
  6. ^ Daley, Kaitee. "Digger Phelps' biggest victory". ESPN.com. Retrieved July 19, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Digger Phelps declared cancer free". ESPN.com. Retrieved July 19, 2013. 

External links[edit]